Breakthrough

Since starting school, I’ve had little time to work on my personal writing (or breathe either, when it comes down to it), but my characters and novels are never far from my thoughts. I miss them. I’ve spent the last three years pouring my life into them and it feels like someone viciously stripped me of half myself.

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So it was no surprise when, on the way home from school the other day, I began to talk to my husband about a problem I’ve had with “Through This Darkness” for over a year.

I know the first chapter sucks. I’ve KNOWN the first chapter sucks. I was just hoping that someone would tell me how or give me some suggestions on it.

I’ve given a lot of people opportunity. I’ve handed out over 10 copies of my manuscript to friends and family. All the people who read it had something insightful to say, but most of them have said nothing. I waited for a while, but at this point some of them have had their copy for over a year. Now I just assume they hate it so much they’re afraid telling me will permanently damage our relationship.

This assumption has led me to pick, prod, cut, and cull my manuscript in a desperate search for flaws. Good news is I’ve found many. Good news is I’ve solved many. (Bad news is there is all these crappy copies of my manuscript floating around out there. I lose sleep over that…if you read this and you have one, please, just burn it.) The most glaring problem in my mind was still the first chapter, the hook, the thing that will make or break potential agents, publishers, and readers. With nothing else to go on, I figure the majority of the people I’ve given it too can’t even get past the crappiness of those first five pages to finish my story.

I’ve been whining and groaning about it to my husband for a while, just wishing someone who knew would help me see what I can’t. Last Monday, my husband turned to me during one of my rants.

Him: “What would happen if you just deleted the first chapter and started at chapter two.”

The space after he said these words was not as long as it felt. It felt like I had time to watch my entire universe explode and realign in perfect order. I said, very softly, “…sh*t…”

As the conversation developed, my husband and I came to the conclusion that this might be one of my hiccups as a writer, and why I struggle so much writing short stories; I just take too much time to set up a scene, instead of getting right into the action.

I’ve begun to comb through the chapter, searching for anything important I might need to squeak in later on. The rest of it *snaps fingers carelessly* gone! I’ve had to kill several chapters worth of darlings in this novel, but this? Nope, nuh-uh, sorry punk, ain’t gonna miss ya.

I’m hoping this change will not only be a huge leap forward for my novel, but my writing in general. And it’s all thanks to my brilliant, wise, patient, dearly beloved husband. I love you Buppy! ❤

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The Trouble with Technology

Even if I wasn’t a writer by profession, one of my wifely duties to my seminary attending husband would be to help proofread his papers. When you’ve spent hours pouring over a document, you tend to miss those little things (the the “of” that should be “if”) that a second pair of eyes will always catch.

It was during his first semester of seminary, and Timothy and I were locked together in a struggle to turn in his research paper by midnight. I’m by no means a night person, but I wanted to stay up with him; to fight this battle by his side, like Eowyn rushing to aide Aragorn in battle against the dark lord.

Don't ask how long it took me to make this horrific image, for I shall not tell.
Don’t ask how long it took me to make this horrific image, for I shall not tell.

So, he was on his computer, typing and editing, and I was running back and forth to the printer, getting hard copies for us to read over and edit.

But our foe was greater than the deadline. Its evil had spread to inhabit other intangibles, wreaking havoc on the internet, wifi, and the cables connecting his desktop to the printer.

I had to go outside every time he printed, because the printer is housed next door at his Grandparent’s house. The air was cold and damp and so was my temper. It was about the three-hundreth (possible exaggeration) time Tim had sent the printer job. I sat down in the office chair beside that blasted piece of grey and white plastic and waited for it to connect. Miracle of miraculous miracles, it’s innards began to click and whir. I sat up straight, hardly believing my ears. My feet moved without my knowing it, until I found myself leaning over the machine with tears in my eyes. The title page of his paper rolled out of the machine. I picked it up greedily and held it to my chest. Glorious victory! I had moments before been  a weary warrior, beginning to contemplate if it would not be better to lay down my arms and crawl back to bed in defeat. But no. No! Patience and diligence had won out over…

I hardly need tell you what happened next. So I’ll describe to you what I heard in onomatopoeia:

FISSSSSSHT-whirrrrrrr…click…click……. Beepbeepbeepbeepbeep! Beepbeepbeepbeepbeep!

I pounded my fist on the desk and said some rather unpleasant words in my head. After I had regained my composure, I sent a text off to my husband to try again. I was not going to cross the enemy lines again until necessary, for fear that, once I reached home base, I would lose my will to return to the fray. I sat down to edit the three pages in front of me, while my husband fiddled with the connection on the other side. Eventually the printer relented and coughed up a copy of his paper, like a signed treaty of peace, and I stumbled home, bitter with what seemed unsatisfactory reparations for the loss of life and limb I’d sustained.

I came into our room and put the edited pages on Tim’s desk, slipped the top cover page from the pile, and read to him the following words I had composed during our painful separation. It was not a letter of love from a warrior who missed their homeland, nor was it anything so deep and thought provoking as some material that foxholes produced during the great battles of yore. But it spoke of the feelings from my deepest heart, and I knew my husband would appreciate it. I will now share it with you. *A-hem*

The printer is blinking,
That means it’s not printing,
I’m standing here watching it flicker.

The silence is killing,
I wish it were willing,
To click and to whir and to blipper.

I swear if I knew what,
Was screwing it up,
I’d do everything in my power,

To help it connect,
Via wireless internet,
And print out my husband’s damned paper.

*bows low to the ground while the crowd cheers and throws roses* Thank you ladies and gentlemen. I will be here all week.

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© Rachel Svendsen 2015

Three Years Later…

My husband and I had very different ideas about what song we would use for our first dance. We both had songs that made us think of each other, but none of them were the same. We went back and forth for a while, until I struck a new idea.

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We met at Raritan Valley Community College where we were both studying music. In those days, I was an aspiring singer who hated publicly performing. So as much as I wanted to sing to my husband on our wedding day, I didn’t want to sing to him on our wedding day. Each performance I did was already a near death experience, but on my wedding day I knew I would be a sobbing mess of blubbering panic attacks. It was also likely they would record this disaster, making the idea that much more abhorrent.

So I asked Timothy if we could record a duet together and use that song as our first dance. He loved the idea. We chose, “I See the Light,” from Disney’s Tangled. We rehearsed it with my vocal coach, and recorded it in a small studio in town. I wanted to make a slideshow to go with it, hoping that people would look at it instead of us dancing, but planning the wedding was too overwhelming so I dropped the idea.

Today, we will be married 3 years. I made my slideshow.

This is for you Timothy. I love you so very much.

Presumed Perils and Prevalent Pleasures of the Outdoors

Growing up, my mother used to tell me stories about people who went on nature walks. They usually ended with small children huddled together against the cold in an abandoned car, while the parent wandered boldly to his death in the mountains, searching for help. These stories were probably meant to instruct me to make wise decisions. Instead they created in me a festering fear of anything hiking. If someone said to me, “Come visit me in North Carolina. We’ll go hiking. It’s absolutely gorgeous here,” I would titter nervously while I silently imagined myself wandering half starved through the trees, my voice too hoarse to scream for help.

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I’ve been on a journey during the past year of facing my fears head on. I started small and have been gradually building up. Tuesday, October 20th was the day Timothy and I tackled my fear of hiking. We packed up my lime green backpack with three water bottles, charged our cellphones so we could take pictures, and filled a ziplock baggie with snacks. I laced up my new black and hot pink sneakers, waved goodbye to friends and family, then hopped somberly into the car. We drove 50 minutes to a trail in the Delaware Water Gap called “Tumbling Waters.” I’d never seen a real waterfall. I mean I’ve been to Niagara falls, but to me that hardly counts. Niagara is a deafening deluge of power. It needs a name bigger than waterfall, like Grandiosely Majestic Deluge Of Death Or Something (GMDODOS for short). Basically, I had never seen a naturally occurring stream trickle magically down into a pool of shining water. I hoped this light at the end of the tunnel would provide me extra incentive to complete the three mile loop.

Notice the Lime Green Backpack

It was a perfect day; too warm really to need a sweat shirt, but cool enough that we weren’t wiping sweat from our eyes. I didn’t see a single insect. The sky was cloudless and the sun was bright, shooting rays of light through the trees to illuminate the acorns, pine needles, rocks, and fallen leaves. Autumn is my favorite season and it was still early enough that half the trees had yet to turn. This made the landscape a delicious pallet of orange, yellow, red, and purple to accent the fresh green of life. The air smelled clean and fresh and of dirt and late October. I heard blue jays and saw chipmunks.

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And I got so freaked out I nearly turned back…

About a mile in, I began to get dizzy. Not an oh-no-I-think-I’m-sick dizzy, but an oh-no-I-can’t-see-the-road dizzy; an oh-no-are-you-sure-we’re-not-hopelessly-lost-ohmygoshIcan’tbreathe dizzy.
I swallowed and said in a chipper voice, “Buppy? You said the waterfall is the half way point, right?”
He smiled at me, “Yep.” He was totally in his element, arms swinging merrily at his sides. Outside, fresh air, exercise, and my hand in his. What more could a man want?
I nodded. “So…uhh…how much farther to the waterfall?”
“We’re about halfway there.”
“How long have we been walking?”
“About thirty minutes.”
My head began to spin and my breath quickened. Visions of forever wandering in the barren wilderness began to dance in my head. “Can we sit down for a minute?”

“Of course.” We plopped onto a nearby rock and I broke down. I said many things, but the gist of it was, “I’m scared. Are we lost? How can you be sure? Can we go back? Take me home.” Timmy held my hand until the panic attack passed. I swallowed my fear and told myself that I could do this and if I didn’t I was just feeding the lies that had taken root in my brain.

We got up and finished the hike. I managed to keep my fears at bay, only regularly reminding Timothy to look out for rattlesnakes and copperheads. Now, I can’t wait to go hiking again. I loved it. All of it. Including the panic attack. 😉

All of the photos here are from our trip. I’m not a photographer, but sometimes nature is, in and of itself, so photogenic that no matter the angle, or how inept you are, the image is still spectacular. Here’s a few more of my favorites.
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babbling brook we had to cross on rocks
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my first “real” waterfall
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This is probably my favorite picture from the trip. My mother-in-law said it looks like the path to Middle Earth.
© Rachel Svendsen 2015

“Replace All”

Autocorrect. Spellcheck. Tab stops. Cut and paste. These are a few of the little things in word processing that are a mixed bag of blessings and curses. They may help us if we perpetually misspell “disease” but sometimes they may cause us to accidentally send a text to our mother to inform her that Dad’s hysterectomy went smoothly. I do most of my writing on my computer, and make regular notes on my iPhone, so I am constantly in a tussle with some smart technological device or other.

This includes the “Find and Replace” feature.

I only used this nugget of blessing once or twice in high school. I wasn’t very computer savvy, so most of my editing was accomplished with a printed copy, pencil, and eraser. Even now, I don’t have the feature quite figured out, except that I know it’s a tricky devil.

When I was working on Immortal Bond, my first novel, I spent the first few drafts trying to think of a decent name for the capital city and country of my setting. Until I decided on one, I just had the words “The Capital” as a place holder. Once I decided on “Cathair,” I opened up the Find and Replace box and found and replaced. This box has a deceptively helpful looking button labeled, “Replace All”. (Beware the Replace All button people. Beware!) I smiled benevolently at it. How sweet, I thought. Some programmer is saving me time. I clicked. I printed.

Somehow, every time “The Capital” was replaced with “Cathair” there was now an odd spacing issue. A sentence that once might have said: “Father, I can’t wait to get to The Capital!”, now said: “Father I cant wait to get toCathair !” I scratched my head, and manually fixed every single one.

Since then I’ve been more cautious.

So the other night when I changed a character’s name for the third, and hopefully final, time I was sweating.

This character suspiciously looks and acts very much like a friend of mine. In my first drafts, this character even, veeeeery suspiciously, had the same name. Obviously this would not do, so I changed his name to Don. It didn’t work for me at all. So my husband and I have been trying to rename him. Last night I decided to try Nick on for size. When I opened the find and replace box, I groaned. There was over 350.

I whined to my husband, “This is going to take forever.”

He shrugged and took the laptop from me. “Just do this.” The mouse hovered ominously over the “replace all” button. I squealed like a wild boar and slapped his hand away.

“Are you MAD?” I snapped. “D-O-N is in all kinds of words! It’ll turn all my ‘donuts’ to ‘Nickuts.’”

“Ooooh,” he mouthed and began to play with the box. A few seconds later he smiled at me. “Just do this!” He clicked a little checkbox that said, “whole words.”

I narrowed my eyes. “What will that do?”

“Watch.” He refreshed the box and the word count dropped by over 150. I turned my skeptical gaze to him.

“You sure that worked?”

“Of course.” His confidence eased my mind. I let him hit the “replace all” button then kissed him affectionately.

“You’re amazing!” I said, then skipped off to shower while he set it up to print.

Shortly thereafter, I was holding the first printed copy of my second novel in my hands. Giddy as toddler with a mini drum set, I sat down to play with my second child. I flipped open to a random page. My face fell.

“TIMOTHY YOU NINNY-FOPPER!”

Yes I did yell that for real. This is normal for me, for these are the names I call my husband. He did not respond. He was in the basement doing laundry. (See! How can I yell cuss names at a husband who does laundry without me even asking?)

He came up the stairs humming. I waited, patiently scowling at the door, until he stepped inside the bedroom. He saw my face and cocked his head at me.

You are a Ninny-fopper,” I repeated, softer and with additional menace.

“Why?”

I motioned to him with one finger. He sat down beside me on the bed. I lifted my laptop onto my lap and opened the find and replace box. I typed the word “Nick’t” into the find section and got a little grey notification that said “167 found”.

Every “don’t” in my story was now “Nick’t”.

Timothy proceeded to hug me and say “I’m sorry” while simultaneously giggling. I changed all my “Nick’t”s back to “don’t”s in my document, but I refuse to print another copy. Save the trees and all that.

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© Rachel Svendsen 2015

Closeness In Silence

I had a lot of fears going into Marriage. There was never any question that I loved Timothy. There was never any question that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. But the process of planning, arranging, and waiting for the wedding day was painstakingly horrendous. The day after he proposed we went to visit his family. They were celebrating November birthdays and they all gushed over me when they saw the ring. When we got in the car to leave, I burst into tears. I hate being the center of attention. Tim held me while I trembled and listened to me gasp “I love you but I don’t know if I can do this” whenever I had breath enough to speak through my semi-hyperventilative state. Needless to say, a little over a year later we got married anyway. (I was half a slow breathing exercise away from passing out during the my vows but…)

One of my weird fears going into marriage was this. A lifetime is a long time, what if we run out of things to talk about? I voiced this fear to a lot of people. The our premarital councilor, my mother and father, Timothy, and random people in the supermarket. They all smiled and said the same thing, “that won’t happen.”

I have been married for two years, but Timothy and I have been inseparable for nearly eight years. I believe they were not telling the whole truth.

Life has been consistently difficult since my miscarriage. Not to say I hate my life because there is beauty in the winter of our lives if you stop and look, but some mornings I wake up and wish to be somewhere or someone else. I often feel like a small child at the ocean for the first time. I ran into the waves with wonder, but their unforeseen strength knocked me off my feet. My head bobs to the surface just in time to meet another breaking wave. The tide is dragging me around and all I can do is wonder when Devine Intervention will rescue me.

I tell my husband everything. We’ve rehashed my current issues over and over until I feel bad about repeating myself. I began to talk to others about it. They’ve all be very patient. But I feel more a burden to them than I do even my husband.

I had another sleepless night yesterday. I listened to some sermons which inadvertently picked the scabs off of old wounds. I laid there in bed, miserable, wishing that I had a friend that I knew for certain would understand if I called them at 2:30 in the morning. I looked over at my tired and hardworking husband. He’s been going to bed early a lot lately because he’s so spent. I wanted his touch. His voice. His comfort. But I couldn’t bring myself to wake him. I laid there for a half hour and finally came to this conclusion, if I couldn’t wake him at 3:00 in the morning when I needed someone, than what was the point of being married.

I rolled over and wrapped my arms around him. I pressed my nose to the bottom of his chin. He stirred.

“Are you awake?” I asked.

“A little.”

“I need you.”

“I’m all yours.” His arms closed around me. I didn’t speak for a while. “What’s the matter?” he asked.

“The same stuff.” I began to cry. “Timmy my heart hurts.”

We didn’t talk much after that. We held to each other for over an hour until we both fell back asleep. To me, it feels as though we have actually run out of things to talk about. I don’t need him any less, but I don’t know what to say to him.

When you love a person for a long time you cannot stay stationary. Things must change or you will stagnate and die. To me, saying that you will never run out of things to talk about is like saying your love will always feel like you just met last week and are still sharing your favorite songs and the funniest stories from your childhood. Timothy knows my whole heart. I hold nothing back. So, right now, there are no words. We have to work to find the words or, if the words don’t come, we have to find togetherness in the silence.

That night I found a closeness in silence with Timothy. By the time I fell back asleep, my heart ached a little less, even though we had run out of things to say.

Odd Forms of Romance

My husband is not poetic. He’s sincerely romantic, by that I mean he buys flowers, lights candles, and takes me on impromptu date nights. His sincerity is invaluable to me. What I’m trying to say is that, he doesn’t SAY romantic things. Usually it’s just, “I love you” or “I love you more than anything”. The look of devotion in his eyes says the rest. But he’s not the guy who takes your hand and says, “Oh my beloved angel I adore you! Your brown locks are silk. Your lips are the food of my being…blah blah blah”. You know, that kinda slop. The slop that most women like to hear on occasion. The occasions for Tim are rare, but every now and again he will throw out something or other that will melt me like an ice cube in a microwave.

We have a little game we play with each other that I call “I love you more than…”. We throw the phrase back and forth to each other. Example:

Tim: Guess what?
Me: What?
Tim: I love you.
Me: I love you more.
Tim: More than what?
Me: More than hummus.
Tim: Well I love you more than chocolate.
Me: Well I love you more than Mr. Bean.
Tim: Well I love you more than…

…and so on and so forth until we decide to knock it off or someone says something stupid and we both bust out laughing. One of the times it went like this…

Me: Guess what?
Tim: What?
Me: I love you.
Tim: I love you more.
Me: More than what?
Tim: More than I did yesterday, but not as much as I will tomorrow.

My heart sang, my eyes got all soft and mushy, and my lips curled into a dreamy smile. I’m pretty sure just typing that story out made me stare at my laptop in such a way as to make it think I’m finally noticing its new haircut.

The other night I had another one of those experiences, but it took on a form that I never would have expected. We were visiting our neighbors and by the time we got home I had a terrific migraine. Usually my migraines are super treatable for which I am excessively thankful. If I take a hot shower they usually drop down to a dull thud. If the thud is dull enough for me to fall asleep I wake up 100% in an hour or so. Because we were out, this one went too long unattended and I ended up vomiting from the horrendous pain. Timmy’s a darling. He held my hair and hugged me. Then tucked me into bed with a fuzzy blanket, a cup of tea, and a heating pad on my forehead. I’m such a baby when I’m sick. I put on his tee shirt and buried my face in his chest while he read to me. My stomach was still churning.

Me: Bubby? (That’s his nickname.)
Tim: What’s wrong babe?
Me: I’m gonna try not to throw up on you.
He stroked my head and whispered in a gentle completely sincere voice: I don’t mind if you throw up on me.

Those words are slightly comical and by no means poetry, but for some reason my heart sang, my eyes got all soft and mushy, and my lips curled into a dreamy smile.